There is no doubting that Korean boy band BTS have surpassed their own expectations when it comes to what they wanted from their career. Back in 2013, when the band first debuted, they wanted to be able to bring their music to the world and spread messages of loving yourself and being true to who you are with the youth of today. They are certainly continuing to do that, but on a scale that is far larger than anyone could have expected.
The group travelled with South Korean President Moon Jae-In- with the use of their newly presented diplomatic passports-to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly yesterday. This isn’t the first time the group have attended, with leader Kim Namjoon (known by his stage name RM) giving a speech back in 2018 in partnership with UNICEF. They also appeared virtually last year but this year, there was a shift in the way that they presented. The group took to the stage by themselves, with Namjoon taking the centre behind the podium. They were introduced by President Moon-Jae In directly, thanks to their recent appointment as “Special Presidential Envoys for Future Generations and Culture”. Once they began their speech, over one million people tuned in worldwide to watch the livestream. Whilst they were given a huge amount of respect in their other UN appearances, this time around there was certainly a shift in the atmosphere and the presentation of the group. The importance of this cannot be understated, with BTS clearly being treated as representatives of an entire generation rather than charitable pop stars.
The speech that the seven members gave was focused on a topic that the group has campaigned for passionately for many years: the younger generation and their impact on our future as a whole. With this came the discussion of teenagers and young adults who have been going through milestones during this pandemic period and how they have been coping with this. On social media, the group asked their fans to share their stories of the last few years and during their speech they showed several of the images that they had received from fans around the world. Their message was one of hope and positivity, encouraging the younger generation to not feel downhearted or to consider themselves as the “Covid generation.” In the speech, Namjoon says the following in regards to this title,
“I’ve heard that people in their teens and twenties today are being referred to as Covid’s lost generation. That they’ve lost their way at a time when they need the most diverse opportunities. They must try new things. But I think it’s a stretch to say they’re lost just because the paths they tread cannot be seen by grown-up eyes.”
It can difficult to try and put yourself in the shoes of the younger generation as an older person sometimes. I myself am 29 years old- I’m a few months older than the eldest member of the group, Jin- and whilst I find that I can relate to still being -at least- on the very edge of the young generation, I am certainly not a person whose education was affected by the pandemic. Those who were due to graduate or looked forward to beginning new schools or universities have experienced this pandemic differently to the rest of us. It must be so easy to give in to those feelings of loss and uncertainty for those young people who felt like they had some stability in their lives and were looking forward to embarking on their futures, only to have it come crashing down thanks to Covid. Jin suggests that rather than considering these people the “lost generation”, we should think of them as the “welcome generation”, due to their ability to adapt to the brand new challenges that Covid created, “welcoming” the change as it were. There is certainly an understanding and an empathy demonstrated by BTS in their speech. I feel like this becomes all the more apparent in a moment where Jimin seems to lose his words when talking about the images they received from fans and how they are “trying hard to continue their friendships online in new ways. Start learning new things, live healthier lives.” After Jimin starts to say this, he hesitates, apologises and takes a moment to breathe before continuing on. It could be argued that this was just nerves taking over entirely (he is addressing the United Nations and more than a million people online after all) but I don’t think this was the only reason for Jimin stumbling over his words. This is clearly a subject that all seven of the members are highly passionate about and Jimin in particular seems to get emotional when discussing the difficulties of their fans. It could be that this passion overwhelmed him and- combining with how nerve wracking the situation must be- led him to freeze momentarily. He did amazingly well though and picked it back up after a few seconds. Honestly, I think this was a really real and relatable moment as well as an honest reminder that whilst these seven men may be superstars, they are still very much human beings. The dedication the group have to the topic of the youth- and the ability that the younger generation has to keep pushing forward – is commendable. They clearly want to make a difference to their lives, acting in every way as representatives for the youth. You may know that BTS’s fans are called ARMY, and this is not just a reference to our large numbers. ARMY is actually an acronym for “Adorable Representative M.C for Youth.” This term was established way back in 2013, so it feels a little bit unreal as to how accurate this fan name would become for the group eight years on.
BTS also discussed the importance of the future generation in regards to their contribution to sustainable development and climate change. They discuss the importance of the climate conversation and the difficulties that comes with it but acknowledge that there are plenty of young people out there who have an interest in the environment and want to make a difference for the future. As Kim Taehyung (stage name V) states;
“these young people were searching for the answers to the question of how we must live that future. So I hope we don’t just consider the future as grim darkness. We have people who are concerned for the world and searching for the answers. There are still many pages left in this story about us, and I thought we shouldn’t talk like the ending’s already been written.”
The group have an optimistic outlook for the future as well as a strong belief in those young people who will be responsible for continuing the work that is needed to improve our planet. It’s easy to feel defeated by the current state of the world at times, easy to feel as if there is no point trying to change something that feels near impossible to improve. As hard as it can be, this is the kind of outlook that we all need to try and maintain for the good of our future but also for the good of ourselves as individuals. Getting a little bit personal here but I am someone who suffers greatly with depression and so the light at the end of the tunnel is a lot more difficult for me to find then it might be for others. Like many others who suffer with this, it can be more than a little difficult to feel positive like this on some days. I don’t know why, but BTS seem to be able to bring back that spark that I used to have when I was younger and make me feel like maybe everything will be alright in the end. I can’t be the only one who feels this way- they have millions upon millions of fans worldwide after all- so not only are they emphasising the importance of doing what we can for the planet while we still can, they are also offering a hint of hope to those who may be struggling more than others. They also note their own difficulties too- with Jungkook saying “Sometimes it feels like you’ve lost your way. There was a time when we felt the same way” and Jin stating, “There were times during the past two years when I too felt bewildered and troubled”- which adds a certain relatability, allowing us to feel a little less alone in our feelings.
The group end their speech by not only telling the crowd that all seven of them have received their Covid vaccinations, but also by offering a message of hope for the future thanks to Namjoon’s eloquent words,
“We thought the world has stopped, but it continues to move forward. I believe that every choice we make is the beginning of change, not the end. I hope that in this nascent new world we can all say to each other, “Welcome.” And now, as we look forward to this future, the permission to dance is our message of welcome that we want to share with everyone today.”
I don’t think you have to know BTS or know their music to see why they were chosen to be Presidential Envoys. Their words are genuine and well spoken, thought out and intelligent. There is no pomp or grandeur, just seven young men who were catapulted to levels of fame that likely once seemed unobtainable. Their choice to use their fame for good is admirable, particularly when you consider just how much their fan base is capable of (the ARMY once matched a million dollar donation to Black Lives Matter in 24 hours after BTS donated). They could easily retire right now and live a stress free and comfortable life. However, they are choosing not to do that. They are bringing a voice to those who often go unheard, to those who are marginalised and made to be quiet. They are encouraging a whole generation to work towards a better future and a healthier life, to look after their mental health and not to be afraid of showing who they truly are. They inspire and bring hope to people of all ages from across the world and they do so while being open, honest and sincere. Their roles as Presidential Envoys have only just begun and it feels as though they have already earned their positions ten times over. One thing I did notice during the speech is how tired all seven members looked. This is likely because following their 14 hour flight to the United States, spent the day until the early hours of the morning recording an incredible performance of “Permission to Dance” at the UN. I’m pretty sure that they must have been worrying about their speech throughout the night too (I don’t know them personally obviously but they are only human! Who wouldn’t be up all night with that kind of pressure?). I think this is evidence of their commitment to not only putting on the best performance but also their dedication to the cause, giving an eloquent and inspiring speech despite their clear exhaustion. Their speech at the UN was not only a momentous moment for their careers as a band and as Presidential Envoys, but also a moment that will be remembered in South Korean history- and in the hearts and minds of their fans- for many decades to come. Make sure to watch the entire speech below, courtesy of Supportbirb on YouTube.